NBA16: Curry Tres and How the ABA Got the Last Laugh

31 Mar

Poison Pill

A metaphorical meeting between the official ABA (Spaulding) and NBA (Wilson) game balls sometime in early 1976:

NBA: ‘Hey, ABBA, you look kinda’ down, like you need a needle & air but bad. You must’ve heard the news. It’s in the hopper, the merger’s set.

ABA: Merger? That’s cute. More like leveraged buyout, no? I’m just sick over it, like I was bounced around a discothèque for days. Ten years, good times, sustainable profits, the Nets could take Rick Barry and those Warriors easy, hell, the Celtics in six. What was it all for?

......ABA.J.Hadnot.1967.wc.323k.Oaks.thmNBA: For? Are you kidding me? So we could close off avenues of profit and pick your bones clean for expansion, that’s what for. You know the score, competition will not be tolerated. Look at baseball, the WFL, it’s the American way: Monopoly. Didn’t you see Rollerball? The Suits & Skirts in DC are trained seals, the Robes, too. Throw ‘em some smelt ($), give ‘em a bouncy ball to perch on and it’s all set.

ABA: What about the Founding Fathers, The Wealth of Nations (A.Smith), competition in the marketplace, Lincoln, FDR, democracy?

NBA: That‘s political. This is business, baby. Whoever has the jack gets to make more jack. And the faux fan, he doesn’t even care. And he’s majority. They wouldn’t make a peep if it meant missing McDonald’s or a Starsky & Hutch. Laverne & Shirley, maybe. When’d you fall off the rubber truck?

ABA: At least some of us will ♫ survive ♫. Of all four clubs, Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, I figure the Nuggets…no, the Nets…the Nets will really shine in the National. They’ve been a dynasty here since 1974. Watch n’ see.

NBA: Maybe. That Dr. J is something else, David Thompson, too.

ABA: Could you do me one favor, Nash, it’s no biggie.

NBA: Name it, amigo.

.....ABA.R.Taylor.wc.thm.WA-Caps.1969ABA (Sniffle): Could you take something on, something we in the American have really taken pride in, something that set us apart.

NBA: The ball, that red, white & blue pom-pon? You gotta’ be kidding? Sorry, no offense, ABBA, you know I love you, all balls, any shape, size or color, but c’mon.

ABA: Are ya’ done? Geez. No, not the ball.

NBA: What then!?

ABA: The 3-point shot. It’d mean alot to us. And it’s kitschy.

NBA: Kitschy, huh? Kind of a gimmick I‘d say…hey, take it easy, ABBA, here’s a Kleenex®. Okay, I’ll pitch it to Larry (O’Brien). He doesn’t even watch. Loves The Rockford Files and Kojak. But I’ve got his ear. If I want it in the game, it’ll happen. Bank on it (‘79).

ABA: Thanks, friend (wink).’

Curry Conundrum

This gimmick, some’ll call it an innovation, has never been bigger than in 2016.

With reigning MVP and NBA champ Steve Curry sinking 3-pointers as often as you’ll hear ‘awesome’ uttered in a 24-hr time span, and a finesse heretofore unseen in World NBA, the shot that turned the game into a near non-contact sport has never been more matterful to players & coaches and noticeable to those who monitor basketball’s ebb & flow.

.....Curry.wc.4.6.14.N.Salzman.thmbBut on-the-whole the game’s b-ball beacon has never luminated on such a weak signal. And for that you can thank the tres.

For starters, it’s a long-distance launch that for all practical purpose is almost indefensible. The phrase ‘defending the 3-point’ is downright oxymoronic.

The Curry conundrum is a mindset of indecision: Defender either plays the 3-pt shooter tight, creating back space big enough for a tractor-trailer while risking the 4-pt play (and momentum swing) too easily afforded in these quick-whistle / phantom phoul times; or, he / she opts out of trying to stop the tres altogether after running the cost / benefit analysis which, to the Curry class, is an open invitation with near 50% likelihood of success. Excellent odds for a fat swish.

Steve found his niche and perfected the play (his coach Steve wasn’t too shabby himself). Credit Curry for that. He and others before him took the manner of game given and after a few decades of practice are making the most of it. Now every kid on the block can be a hero. And isn’t that wonderful?

And we’re moving closer to apples & oranges in species of basketball.

The former game fashioned by founder Jim Naismith (1891) was exciting enough to keep fans fascinated for five generations. At it’s core fueling the fun was the symbiotic “association (The Triangle, 1.15.1892 (JN))” between inside – outside games: Power & positioning around the basket contrasted with daring drives to the hoop and swish artistry from the perimeter, all of equal value.

.....Naismith.wc.Evdcoldeportes.thmIt’s now given way to a new millennial form of play termed by this writer as ICBM: Inter-Continental Ball-istic Mode where the 3-point threat pulls most the action away from the frontcourt (paint & post) and into the back, out on the arc (wings) far from the rim and into a nether region of uncertainty. The tres may account for under a third of a game’s total point output but impacts the entirety.

The big guys don’t really know where to post anymore: Up top, down low, somewhere in between (no-man‘s land). Because of that we’ll never know just how good LeBron James could’ve been in the true power-forward position.

Is this what Commissioner Larry O’Brien & Co. foresaw for the NBA when they instituted the 3-point shot in the ‘79-80 season, a basketball game where the once celebrated center spot has lost so much significance it doesn’t even rate mention on the annual All-Star ballot? At first blush I’d answer, no, they did not.

On deeper reflection, however, the prevailing mood amongst guardians of the game may’ve been to seek a change in tempo and temper

In wake of the devastating punch Lakers’ Kermit Washington threw at Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in a 1977 on-court fracas, a slug so severe it collapsed his face and required multiple surgeries to repair the damage, NBA owners may’ve been seeking a means to calm the game, to a degree, by rule change.

Whether that was a true motive or not it’s calming effect has been so certain it turned the game prosaic where the defensive pulse is so weak the doctor would pronounce the basketball patient comatose.

.....Horse.carosuel.12.30.12.Dinkum.wc.thmSide-effect has been an activity that more resembles a game of running H.O.R.S.E. than a battle on the boards, where every trot down court is merely set-up for matching long-range lift-offs: Low contact, no designed plays, create a space, feed me the ball and watch it fly. Whoop-dee-frickin-do.

Surprisingly, or not, it’s the women’s game (WNBA / college) that is the truer form of roundball in 2016. The strength and torque, as it were, are lesser with the ladies but the synergy between shooter skill and physical fortitude in the paint still thrives to maintain a harmony and a verve that bests the big boys.

Clearly, NBA overlords did not fully consider the gradual but inescapable game-changing impact this ABA osmosis would have on the National and b-ball in general, to the great detriment of the tremendous inside – outside dichotomy that had defined the game from its inception and made it a captivating show.

Perusing my 1983 paperback edition of The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball (Z. Hollander), the NBA 3-pt shot was slowly mastered and adapted into play where 100 attempts was fairly rare for most shooting guards in the early 80s and the top takers like Mike Bratz (CLE 138a – 46 (82)), Mike Donleavy (SA 194 – 67 (83)), Joe Hassett (214 – 71 (82)) and Darrell Griffith (257 – 92 (85)) only rarely reached the 200 plateau. The championship clubs of the day like the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons (80s), Bulls and Rockets (90s) were still seriously symmetrical working both inside and outside games.

Might the 3-pointer go the way of the dodo bird? Doubtful. Love it and leave it (in place) probably says it best. It’s now the central component to today’s distant cousin of the Naismith game, even as fan interest ebbs low. Sad to think for those who love the rich, full flavor basketball that had thrived for 100 years.

.....straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: ABA, Darden-Moe, wc.cca, 1970; ABA, Oakland, J.Hadnot, 1967, wc; ABA, R.Taylor, DC-Caps, 1969, wc; S.Curry, 4.6.14, N.Salzman, wc; horse-carousel, Paris, MoFA, Dinkum, wc, 12.30.12; J.Naismith, wc, Evdcoldeportes; J.Naismith, wc; Straight-shooter, produce-label;
Posted: 3.31.16 @ 12:24pm EST; Copyright © 2016

 

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